By taking a business development approach to licensing that focuses on the strengths of each brand and understanding consumer desires, this licensing agency has seen a lot of success in just seven years. When senior-level, experienced people in any industry have a vision and an action plan, good things often result. At Brandgenuity, a licensing agency founded in 2003, its four founders had a vision of creating a turnkey licensing agency that intimately understood all of the pillars of licensing. Judging by its client list and success stories, those founders not only dreamt big, they executed their plan.
“The company started with four of us. We’ve since expanded our employee base to halo those things we think are required to be successful in licensing,” said Adina Avery-Grossman, founder and partner.
Brandgenuity is a full service agency, and licensing is all it does. The company represents corporate brands and entertainment properties, currently managing just over 200 licensees that generated more than $350 million in retail sales in 2009. Key clients or licensors include Food Network, World Poker Tour, MGM Studios, Pabst Brewing Company, Atari, Cadbury Adams, Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Really Useful Group, (which includes The Phantom of the Opera), and Church & Dwight, the parent company of famous brands like Arm & Hammer and OxiClean.
Avery-Grossman pointed to five specific skill sets she believes are critical aspects of licensing. An agency like Brandgenuity has to understand brands and brand strategy, love prospecting and sales, negotiate and structure agreements that protect the intellectual property of clients, work closely with product manufacturers to ensure brand essence is translated and engineered into every licensed product while helping manufacturers best leverage the brands profitably and successfully into their categories, and factor the ever-growing importance of retail into the equation.
“We need to know how to speak to, work with, and present programs to retailers, including how to run retail exclusives,” she said.
“Clients hire us because we get them where they want to go smartly, quickly, and more creatively than if they were doing this on their own. We’ve completed hundreds of agreements and prospected for hundreds of partners, learning many lessons along the way,” added Andy Topkins, another founder and partner. The other founders are Jay Asher, who has nearly 20 years of experience licensing brands like Harley-Davidson, Ford Motors, and Little Tikes, and Louis Drogin, the inhouse attorney providing legal expertise to clients and negotiating agreements.
Brandgenuity has overseen product development in roughly 20 different categories, everything from food, toys, travel, pet products, and mobile cell phone games to apparel, electronics, interactive, home décor, and housewares. There is hardly a category the company hasn’t been involved with at some point during the course of finding, signing, and managing a partner through the product development process.
“The benefits of working with an agency like us are the lessons learned and experiences that are brought to bear on new products. We’re industrious, curious, and good at finding new opportunities and getting into new categories,” Avery-Grossman said. “Andy was among the first licensing agents walking floor of the CTIA wireless trade show thinking about ways to leverage the category for clients via licensing. We always look for un-mined categories to integrate licensing in new and creative ways.”
As a full-service provider of all aspects of licensing, Brandgenuity’s staff includes product development experts with a vast array of experience, as well as sales executives who have worked as licensees and at large licensing-driven apparel and toy companies. Brandgenuity has been expanding staff from the four founders to what is now a company of 12 with offices in New York and Chicago.
The company also stayed on top of ways technology can benefit clients. The mobile extension the company did for the World Poker Tour was recognized by LIMA as the best sports licensing program of the year in 2006, helping the brand grow from a niche TV show on the Travel Channel to what is now arguably the leading poker brand with a licensing program approaching $100 million in retail sales.
“We developed an extensive interactive strategy so poker fans could access and play poker on any interactive device they could get their hands on, whether it’s their computer, mobile phone, or something else,” said Topkins. “One trend we’ve seen is the consumer’s desire to customize content. There are now a lot of online sites that allow people to develop their own products, and we have relationships with companies that know how to treat licensor brands in respectable ways while allowing for customization online.”
No matter the brand, Brandgenuity is comfortable with its ability to deliver. Many people in the company have worked on the brand side. Avery-Grossman holds an MBA in marketing and spent years at Kraft working on cereal brands, and other team members came from places like ESPN, Mattel, and Sesame Street. This experience helps the company understand consumer brand interest, how to bring products to market that will resonate with a brand and its target market, and how to help licensees leverage brands into long-term businesses.
For example, the company helped Food Network launch a Nintendo Wii game called “Food Network: Cook or be Cooked!” from Namco Bandai America. The game helps people hone cooking skills in a virtual kitchen alongside recognizable Food Network personalities in ways that differ from other cooking games. Gaming pioneer Atari is another hugely successful licensing program for Brandgenuity. With products ranging from apparel, accessories, and barware to wall coverings, surfboards, and lottery tickets, Brandgenuity and Atari have worked to develop an exciting and innovative line.
With Pabst Brewing Company, which owns many national and regional brands, Brandgenuity is helping the company leverage the fact that some are indigenous to certain regions and have loyal fans. Take Old Style Beer, which is huge in Chicago and the Midwest. It has the longest standing sponsorship at Wrigley Field, and Brandgenuity is tapping into that emotional connection by signing apparel companies and prospecting for the right licensee for ballpark-inspired food like sausages, peanuts, and pizza, among other ideas enabling fans to interact with the brand outside the ballpark.
Going forward, Brandgenuity knows it must stay abreast of the changing conversation between brands and consumers, as the retail space has seen a heavy amount of brand consolidation and elimination as new avenues emerge. There is opportunity for the company because many brands that previously weren’t open to licensing are now thinking about it as a way to expand marketing, build awareness, and generate revenue. The company intends to have a balance between entertainment and corporate trademarks, but in the end, Brandgenuity will be successful because it looks at the relationship with clients as new business development, not just licensing.
“Our best clients look to us to help ignite new business that they choose to launch with a third party because it is a better use of resources for them,” said Avery-Grossman. “We have to apply the same discipline and strategy we would if we were part of their company.”
“Consumers are smarter and better educated today,” added Topkins. “We have to concentrate on the essence of each brand, come up with the right ideas, and marry the two to provide solutions that delight consumers and clients.”